Whoosh! Issue 28 - January 1999

IAXS project #559
By Bob Schultz
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
This edition copyright © 1999 held by WHOOSH
2270 words

The Gab Drag (01-03)
Examining Xena's Behavior (04-30)
A Necessary Part (31-33)

The Dramatic Plausibility of the Gab Drag

Hey, they'd never use this for an album cover, right?

Xena cries 'revenge' as she is about to hurl Gabrielle off the cliff.

The Gab Drag

[01] The Rift is over. All over the Xenaverse, an enormous sigh of relief can be heard (whoosh!). Love it or hate it, the Rift arc dragged our beloved heroes through some dark stuff: death, betrayal, loss of trust, and in the case of Gabrielle, a couple of miles of rough terrain.

[02] The rift between Xena and Gabrielle reached its darkest depth when Xena stormed into the Amazon village and dragged Gabrielle behind a horse, apparently with murder in mind. Though difficult to watch, and even more difficult to accept, the "Gab Drag" is at least plausible, if not necessary, from a dramatic perspective.

[03] In order to best understand how the Gab Drag was a natural consequence of previous events, one must examine Xena's behavior with regard to loyalty, her struggle with her past, and the characters who symbolize those struggles: Gabrielle, Callisto, and Hope.

Examining Xena's Behavior

And when I've finished with the little ingrate, Joxer, you're next!

Xena is all Warrior Princess as she attacks Joxer and the Amazons in order to abduct Gabrielle.

[04] When viewers first encounter Xena [THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)], she is the embodiment of evil. Not only does she plan on killing Hercules, but she also seems to want him to kill Iolaus. She seduces Iolaus and manipulates circumstances so that he and Hercules wind up duking it out.

[05] Simply killing Hercules would not be satisfying enough for dark Xena. She apparently feels that forcing a hero to kill a loved one is the ultimate act of power. Causing Hercules to fall before she kills him only makes his defeat that much more sweet to an evil warrior princess.

[06] Naturally, Hercules and Iolaus make up and live on to fight injustice another day. However, we get a glimpse into a pre-redemptive Xena. Her character believes loyalty to one's friends to be strictly for suckers. She beats her men into submission and even sends one of these sub-par warriors against the demigod, Hercules, just to further her own evil, if convoluted, scheme. Not only does she feel no loyalty to her men, but she also uses her feminine wiles to disrupt Iolaus's loyalty, and she actively attempts to force Hercules to renounce his loyalty to Iolaus.

[07] Eventually, Xena decides to seek redemption. She is constantly in pursuit of forgiveness (from whom? Herself, Greece, the Gods, you name it). Yet, she is also constantly fleeing from her old, evil persona. As a wise Jedi Master once said, "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." Although Xena turns her back on her dark ways, the threat of sliding back into her darker belief system is always present.

[08] In the first three seasons, the character of Callisto symbolizes Xena's dark impulses. A victim of Evil Warlord Xena, Callisto lives for no other reason than to make Xena suffer and, in later episodes, as a lightning rod for rockslides. In her first appearance, CALLISTO (22/122), she makes it clear that she represents the darkness within Xena when she demolishes a village and declares herself Xena. She pursues Xena, doubts Xena's pursuit of redemption, and drives a wedge between Xena and Gabrielle at every opportunity, just as Xena did to Hercules and Iolaus.

[09] Gabrielle, of course, represents the light. How many times has Xena come right out and said it? "You are my light." "You are my source."

[10] Consequently, Callisto always strikes at Xena through Gabrielle. In each ensuing adventure, she gets stronger and stronger, eventually becoming omnipotent, except for rockslides.

[11] It may be argued that Xena's capacity for goodness comes from within her. I agree. However, that goodness is manifested and supported through Gabrielle, in a way similar as to how a witch's power must be manifested through a familiar. Once awakened, Xena's goodness needs constant feeding from a being of near-complete light.

[12] Nonetheless, the "beast that sleeps so close to Xena's heart" could not be held at bay by Gabrielle's light forever. Eventually, Xena would need to find a source within. Keeping company with a warrior princess assured that Gabrielle would lose her blood innocence at some point. If not for Callisto, Gabrielle would have gotten married. Xena's journey to an alternate timeline separated her from Gabrielle. It seems that separation threatens our heroes at least three times a year. However, it was not any of these threats which separated the two in the third season.

[13] The Rift drove Xena away from her source at the time when she needed guidance to the light more than ever.

[14] Caesar's return in THE DELIVERER (50/304) started Xena's move away from Gabrielle. Symbolically, when Caesar manages to capture Gabrielle, he also captures Xena's source. Just as he had defeated her in their first encounter and had broken her body, now he has stolen the source of her spiritual growth as well.

[15] The majority of this episode is spent with Xena and Gabrielle separated, and with Xena becoming, more and more, obsessed with battle and war, now represented in the person of Caesar, Julius Caesar.

[16] Where before, Callisto represented Xena's past sins against innocents, Caesar represents Xena's present inner struggles against her bloodlust. He seems to be the only opponent who truly challenges her [Editor's note: at least in the first three seasons], and her need for revenge against the man who humiliated her becomes an obsession.

[17] It is no coincidence that Gabrielle loses her blood innocence in this episode. Xena has all but abandoned her quest for redemption, and embraced her bloodlust. Consequently, the symbol of Xena's quest also becomes a tarnished symbol of purity. "Everything's changed. Everything." Indeed.

Relax, Xena.  It's not like we're really gonna end up on a
cross at some point!

In an ironic twist of things to come, Gabrielle is up on a cross in THE DELIVERER.

[18] Though the disappearance of Caesar's army and the huge battle are monumental plot holes from a viewpoint of the story, symbolically, it makes sense. Xena's quest for redemption has gone on for three years. She slips and turns her back on this quest, but catches herself. She wants to salvage her quest. The bloodlust must be ignored, pushed back. The darkness threatens, figuratively, in the form of Xena's thirst for vengeance, and literally in the clouds that form over Dahak's temple. The "beast who sleeps" so close to her heart is stirring.

[19] The result of all this is Hope, who is the embodiment of pure evil. Of course, Xena sees Hope as evil right away. After all, she is overwhelmed with guilt. If she had not embraced her bloodlust in the first place, Gabrielle would never have been raped. Symbolically, Hope is a reminder of Xena's fall from grace. Using a common literary practice, Xena decides to combat evil (Hope) by becoming evil (attempting to murder a child). She is fully returning to evil Xena now, though reluctantly. With Gabrielle, her source, a rape victim and no longer a blood innocent, Xena has no place to turn for the light. Gabrielle has her own healing to do.

[20] In China [THE DEBT (52-53/305-306)], Xena deliberately, and with malice aforethought, lies to Gabrielle, and kills Ming T'ien in cold blood. The symbolic dismissal of Gabrielle from the ruins of the temple before killing Ming T'ien indicates Xena's conscious decision to turn her back on the good path and fully awaken the beast.

[21] This was a critical juncture for Xena's moral growth, an opportunity she failed to take. Since her first appearance in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena has equated loyalty with goodness. With Ming T'ien, she might have chosen loyalty to Gabrielle and the quest for redemption. Instead, she saw the hairpin as a sign from the grave that she ought to kill Ming T'ien.

[22] In DESTINY (36/212), we saw Xena make a conscious decision to follow the evil path. Gabrielle's goodness struck a nice counterbalance in that episode, demonstrating how far Xena had come in her quest. In Ming T'ien's temple, however, we see Xena faced with the same decision: evil versus good. Numerous times, Xena had been tempted to succumb to her dark side before this, most notably in THE PRICE (44/220). Yet, each time Gabrielle managed to pierce the darkness and become Xena's voice of reason. No Gabrielle to represent the light this time. Xena took care of that by manipulating her out of the scene entirely.

[23] The beast slept near Xena's heart no more. It is wide-awake and looking for its morning Folger's crystals.

[24] In MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311), Callisto, who represents Xena's evil past, teams up with Hope, who represents Xena's current struggles against bloodlust. Naturally, both of these entities want to hurt Xena, only Callisto's modus operandi has changed. She used to attack Xena through the symbol of her quest for redemption, Gabrielle. Gabrielle is no longer a symbol of light. Xena has corrupted Gabrielle already. So, the bad guys go after Solan (Greek for "Little More Than A Plot Device").

[25] When Solan bites the dust, Xena is crestfallen. She blames herself, but also Gabrielle. After all, Gabrielle rescued Hope. Hope killed Solan. Ergo, Gabrielle killed Solan.

[26] The death of her son pushes Xena beyond the breach. The beast is now fully awake and roaring for blood. Her source of light, Gabrielle, has been corrupted. Solan, apparently another source of light, has been killed, also because Xena strayed from her quest for redemption.

[27] Xena is now immersed in her evil side. She still mourns for Solan, Gabrielle, and her quest for light in the opening of THE BITTER SUITE (58/312). It is a forgone conclusion that her source is gone, that her quest for redemption is over. All it takes is a little needling from Ares, and she is a warlord again.

[28] Xena hates herself for straying from her quest. She is like an alcoholic who slips after three years. Angry, bitter, and resentful of everybody and everything that represents all she lost due to her fall. Her light, her source, failed her.

[29] Xena has been driven back to her beginnings. We need to remember that the character we love did some horrible things in her past. Even as recently as LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407), we are learning of increasingly more horrifying acts of the Evil Warlord Xena. According to this Xena, the Xena of THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), adherence to one's word is not a priority. Loyalty is for suckers, and she had made a sucker out of herself. The only way to prove to herself that she is no longer vulnerable to such betrayal is to destroy Gabrielle. Hence, the cruel Gab Drag, and attempt to throw Gabrielle off the cliff.

[30] In SACRIFICE (67-68/321-322), things begin to come to a close. Gabrielle throws HERSELF into a pit this time, along with Hope, the symbol of Xena's bloodlust and betrayal of Gabrielle. Xena kills Callisto, lying to rest the demons of her past, and paving the way for new enemies and struggles, such as Najara, who represents more of a spiritual struggle than one of past Xena versus present Xena.

A Necessary Part

Are we there yet?

Gabrielle is dragged by some very picuresque scenery.

[31] Xena's rough treatment of Gabrielle in the pre-Illusia scenes of THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) was harsh, angry, and raw. Taken on its face, with no perspective granted it by earlier episodes, the act of dragging Gabrielle behind a horse seems completely out of character. After several years of tension and relying on Gabrielle to pull her emotional fat out of the fire, Xena finally had to face her evil.

[32] The shock and terror of that scene sent a rumble through the entire Xenaverse. Who among us did not have a lump in his or her throat while it was happening? Yet, this shock and terror served the story very well. The revelations and epiphanies in Illusia, Xena's return to defending the weakened Gabrielle in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), and Gabrielle's willingness to give her life to save Xena's, all have deeper meaning now. Since Gabrielle and Xena have faced pure hatred and anger (in the form of warlord Xena), and survived the trial, they have grown. The more harsh the trial, the more substantial the growth, and brother, that Gab Drag was one harsh trial.

[33] The Gab Drag was difficult to watch, and painful for viewers who have come to love the characters and their relationship. Unfortunately, a necessary part of the story is the dismal. It is a standard story arc: Rise, Fall, and Redemption. With the aid of Hercules and Gabrielle, Xena was able to rise above her evil past. The Gab Drag was rock bottom. She fell hard. Now, we await the redemption, with Xena finding a light, a source, within herself.


Bob Schultz Bob Schultz
Bob Schultz, 28, lives in the peace and quiet of upstate New York. When not enjoying Xena (or defending it to his so-called friends), he focuses on several unfinished screenplays, the Boston Red Sox, his devoted mutt, Chooch, the films of writer/director Kevin Smith, Star Wars, and his quest for the perfect Chicken Caesar Salad. He's also not ashamed to admit that he enjoys watching "Gong Show" reruns on the Game Show Network.
Favorite episode: THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Autolycus: "Of course the trick in killing someone with an apricot is really in the wrist. The drawback is it kills instantly so there's not time to gather information. So for situations like that, well, I use a muffin." THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES (17/117)
First episode seen: CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102)
Least favorite episode: KING CON (61/315)

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